Just the Bare Necessities for Classical Conversations Foundations

When I first started homeschooling, my kids were 9, 6 and 4.  I mainly focused on my 9 year old, because school felt serious, and I didn't want to mess him up!  Thankfully, my girls just hitched a ride along with their brother and joined in on the learning.  That year, I didn't know about Classical Conversations and how wonderful it is for combining learning for the whole family.

Not a year goes by that I look at the moms who are starting homeschooling with their 4 year old that I don't have to fight off jealousy.  It would be wonderful to be able to go back and learn all of this with my kids from the beginning.  God is good, and He's laid out a path for me to still redeem my family's education, even though I didn't homeschool from day one.

Often, I see those moms of littles worrying about all kinds of homeschooling fears.  They see someone like me, who enters CC with a 10 year old, buys all of the optional items, and wonder, "Am I missing something?" Then, after a year or two, they drop out because they feel they're not doing enough.  Let me just say that these years are the hardest on mom because all of your work is like getting your house rewired while you're sitting on 20 year old couches, or the engine of your car rebuilt when you have scratches all up and down the sides from little bike riders. You spend a lot of money for something that you can't see.  The early years of education are the root building years; they're the underground work.  They are so necessary for growing oaks of righteousness that continually bear fruit, but they don't look flashy.  It's hard work.

So I'm going to dream for a moment.  I'm going to lay out the strategy I would take if I could go back to the beginning and start all over.

Mothers of 4-6 Year Olds - I'm talking to you!


What to Buy: This is where the craziness starts right?! Have you been to one of those homeschool book fairs where there are so many options of curriculum that you are completely overwhelmed and intimidated?  My short list of what I would buy:

  • Classical Conversations Foundations Guide.  This thing is awesome.  It contains all of the memory work for the entire Foundations program, along with tons of extras explaining the science and fine arts projects that happen on community day.  One book for the entire family, for the entire program is a simple start.  If you do join CC and buy this book, my greatest tip is read it cover to cover every year.  There is so much great info included, you'll definitely miss something on your first read.  Confession: I didn't read it my first year. Wish I had.
  • Tin Whistle - one for every kid in the program. These are the cheapest instruments around, and the kids enjoy them for 6 weeks out of the year.  Don't try to find it cheaper somewhere other than from a CC book rep because they come in different keys (like the key of D, or C#).  No need to add a second dimension to the shrill tones played in this age group! You will love all they learn about music theory and might even find yourself wanting to try your hand at this magic music wand.
  • Spell to Write and Read (or some other phonics program).  You can use whatever reading program that you like, but I love this one because it's a one time purchase that I am still using with my 15 year old.  Take it super slow in these years because you have a lot of time to grow.
  • Life of Fred Math (or some other math program). I suggest this series because it's math wrapped up in story form.  At this age, math should be play.  Count beans, sort silverware, learn to read a clock, or go on a geometry hunt outside. Play.  Don't feel guilty.

That's itI told you it was short! 

All of the other wonderful learning that happens at this time doesn't require another workbook or teacher's guide. Go outside and wander as you investigate worms or leaves. Read aloud good books...ones that you enjoy too. Go to the museum. Spend time exploring at a farmer's market. Get groceries. Change diapers. Rest. There is plenty of time for more.

If I wanted a little more, I might buy:

  • Trivium at the Table maps.  These are big and beautiful maps with all of the places and features you'll be learning throughout the year clearly marked.  I would foster a love of maps from the very beginning.
  • CC Audio CDs. Want to review painlessly?  Stick the CD in the car and let it play as you drive.  Our best year of CC review time was when we were a part of a community that required a 45 min drive to attend.  We reviewed a lot that year!
  • The CC App.  Another great review tool is the CC app.  My kids enjoy reviewing this way, and there are tons of extras included like "History Highlights" on each history sentence, and "Science Snippets" if you wanted to know more about something.
  • A Prescripts book. These are cursive instruction and handwriting books.  I've used them with my youngest from the time she was six.  She's loved them.
  • A good set of readers like these (American Language Series).  Reading time is where you want to spend the bulk of your energy.  These books are beautiful and the kids in my community that use them really enjoy them.

And I probably would buy those because I love options.

The resources above would not reflect daily activities. Don't go schedule in every second of every day with structured learning. It doesn't have to be that hard. Burnout will follow shortly if you see tools for your teaching as shackles of your schedule.

What I wouldn't buy YET:

Classical Conversations flash cards

  • Classical Conversations Memory Work Flashcards are awesome.  They come in this cute little deck of colorful school supply goodness that is nearly irresistible.  If you run a tight ship at home, and you're good about keeping up with things, maybe these would survive in your home.  When I had 4 and 6 year olds, we were good to leave the house with our hair brushed, let alone know where all the pieces of something like this could be found after being scattered around the house.  My girls would have loved them into obscurity, but totally missed that there was actual memory work on them.  There's plenty of time for these later.  Buy these when your child starts really getting into the memory work and likes to play games like these.
  • Classical Conversations History Acts and Facts Cards are also awesome. My 15 year old still uses these as reference as he studies.  They will last forever.  You could get these for your little ones, and enjoy looking at the beautiful pictures of the historical events together.  There is so much extra information, you probably won't get to it all.  You've got to play remember?!  If you want to pace yourself, buy the first set your first year, then add a set each year.  In CC we go through all four sets every year, but the titles of the timeline facts are in the guide, so you won't be lost.  Don't fret reading a timeline card on a week that you're not memorizing that piece of information.  It all comes together in the end.  Trust the process and teach from rest.
  • Latin Curriculum...unless you know Latin already and want to share your love of the language with your kids! Save this for later.  I would spend my time learning the phonograms and spelling rules with my kids so that I could be a better teacher in these areas.  Once these items are in your brain, you can be freed from the workbooks and take spelling with you as you go on walks, in the car, laying on a blanket under the stars, etc.  It is so liberating.

I hope you're hearing my heart - you've got a lot on your plate.  Raising young people requires so much energy, time, and skill.  Don't downplay what you're doing right now.  Your time with little people is precious.  Savor it.  The grass isn't exactly greener on the other side.  Of course, the diapers disappear, but there are different things that are stinky and trying that come with every age.

If I could go back, I would focus on my own education first.  I would learn and share my thoughts and excitement with my children.  Like a mother bird, I could impart nourishment to the souls of my children through information I previously digested.

There's pressure with your first for sure.  Your identity as a mother and teacher should not be wrapped up in their performance.  You might have a first who's the dream student, but your second will be different, and your third will challenge you in all new ways.  Your identity should rest in Christ alone.

Now for some Homework...because I know you're eager and nervous and excited all at the same time.  

Here are some wonderfully encouraging articles/books I suggest you read to help quiet your heart and prepare for your journey.  There is a long road ahead, but the harvest is worth it.

Just the Bare Necessities for Classical Conversations Foundations program

I'd be happy to answer any questions you have about Classical Conversations in the early years.  I'll hold off being jealous and just let you know that your children are precious.  Play with them!  Enjoy them! Rest in the Truth that when God calls you to a task He will equip you to complete it.


  1. Abigail on August 7, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I literally just hung up the phone FREAKING out because I already feel like a total failure and school hasn’t started yet. Then this blog shows up in my inbox from our wonderful CC director.

    Last year was my first year homeschooling. This year my kids are 1st, K, 2yr and 1yr. Last year I just survived starting homeschooling with four kids under 6 including my baby who was born on the first day of CC! This summer I panicked a little and enrolled my 1st and K students in K12. I haven’t even started and I hate it. It’s going to take away time from CC and enjoying life. I did four days with my 1st grader this week just as practice and didn’t have time for playing with any of the others…how am I going to now add CC and K curriculum. Pretty sure I’ll be leaving K12 to focus on CC but I’m feeling guilty about giving up. I look around and see everyone else smiling while I think I’m drowning.

    I also have a 20 year old and usually I’m good at realizing these little ones grow up fast and just to enjoy them, thank you for the reminder!

    • Betsy on August 7, 2015 at 7:47 pm

      Abigail – thanks for sharing! My son was in public school until the third grade. While he had a lot of volume of work, he didn’t have much retention. Then I began homeschooling and spent the year teaching US History. At the end of that year, he still couldn’t remember much of what we had studied that year. Then we joined CC. When we studied Cycle 3, by the end of the year he could recite 24 sentences about American History, and he was proud of his accomplishment as well as inspired to learn more. Now he’s entering Challenge I and will be reading American documents and drawing from all of that great memory work that we accumulated in Cycle 3 to better understand why the documents were written and the impact they had. Every year of Challenge that I encounter reaffirm my belief in the memory work being more than sufficient work in the early years. My youngest started CC when she was 4, and didn’t do too much more than play. She’s now repeated two cycles and this year accomplished memory master. Even so, she’ll get to work on Cycle 3 another time at age 12. I can’t wait to see what thoughts she’ll have as she reaches the dialectic stage and has a copious amount of facts to draw from and connect together. Give yourself grace! Hope you have a wonderful year!

  2. Mickey Meade on August 7, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Hello. Thank you for your kind words in your blog. This is my first year in CC and I have a 5 and 6 year old. We homeschooled last year, but honestly spent a lot of the year finding our way and took way too many days off because Mama was just overwhelmed. We are settling in now. (I say that even though we’ve been off for 2 months). Our CC starts on Monday. My question to you is, can you recommend something that is easy to follow and engaging for bible time? My kids get most excited about bible time when we watch Superbook DVD’s and talk about them afterwards, however, they are very expensive. I want something that deals with character training most importantly. Thanks so much!

    • Betsy on August 7, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      For Bible time, we love the Jesus Storybook Bible. There is a link to a blogger who’s compiled a craft or extra activity to go along with each of the stories. If you’re looking for something more character focused, two books that come to mind are The Children’s Book of Virtues or Character Sketches. I love the Book of Virtues because it connects character through literature. Fairy tales and stories are great concrete ways to introduce character concepts to children. The Character Sketches book is also really cool because it highlights a quality of an animal that is related to a character quality and then adds a Bible story to solidify the idea. Whatever your chose, remember that little bits consistently over time really add up. Hope this helps!

      • Mary the Mess on April 29, 2017 at 10:12 am

        I love Jesus Storybook Bible. I’ve read it to my daughter cover to cover about 5 times now. She requests it. Honestly, it’s so beautifully written about God’s relentless pursuit of us that I find myself fighting tears sometimes when I’m reading it to her. Love it and what a great idea to use that for Bible time.

  3. Corri B. on August 14, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Thank you for this piece! We’re about to start our first year of CC with our oldest (4) and I’m excited but very nervous about how I’ll do in making it a success. My mom is involved in CC with my siblings and she assures me we’ll have a great year but it’s nice to see advice similar to what she’s given me from an outside source, too. I’m feeling a little more relaxed about diving in and seeing what unfolds!

    • Betsy on August 14, 2015 at 8:36 am

      Oh how fun! I hope you have a great year of new beginnings.

  4. Nichole on September 4, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    thank you for this. I was feeling much overwhelmed with starting with my 4 year old this year. I lost sight of play time while trying to get her to do her school work. We both end up in tears by the end of most days and me questioning if I’m doing anything right. God heard my hearts cry today and I found this at the perfect moment. Thank you for sharing your heart. I’m inspired again to keep learning along side her and enjoy he journey. God bless!!!

    • Betsy on September 4, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      God is so good! Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your sweetie!

  5. Emily T on September 18, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    Thank you! I’m glad someone pinned this on Pinterest. 😉 And I’m right on track with your recommendations – Spell to Read and Write is here (highly recommended by a friend) and the first two Life of Fred book should be here soon. 🙂

  6. Robyn Arheghan on April 12, 2016 at 1:32 am

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    I soooooooooooo appreciate this information. It really relieves more of the pressure and reminds me to relax, rest and flow. Blessings to you and your family.

  7. Chasity Wheeles on June 29, 2016 at 7:46 am

    I’m reading The Core and wondering why I didn’t find CC earlier! I have a 8 yr, 5 yr , and 3 yr…my 8 yr is ADHD and can’t be medicated due to weight issues and about to be tested for possible dyslexia or some kind of processing disorder. My 5 year old is the model student/child and my 3 year I have no idea where she came from. I’m excited and extremely scared of starting CC. It’s how I want my kids to learn but I’m worried I won’t be capable teaching it. I just keep pushing forward knowing God is in control and I believe the payoff for my kids in the future is so much greater.

    • Betsy on June 29, 2016 at 7:54 am

      I felt the same way!! My youngest, while never officially tested for dyslexia, has struggled with reading, but has SOARED in CC. This past year she started writing songs…like actual pencil to paper writing on her own. The confidence she’s gained in finding success in the memory work is spilling out into other areas. She’s not defined by what she can’t do. CC has really helped me be patient in the process with her. I’ve loved it!

  8. Amy Hite on June 29, 2016 at 8:03 am

    Your blog is so helpful. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. I was wondering how much to budget this year for homeschooling. I will be starting CC this upcoming year with a 5 year old and a 3 year old in tow. Choosing math and language arts curriculums is overwhelming and as I think about all the subjects that we will try to cover I just can’t imagine how to get it all in. I don’t want to mess up with too much or too little. The price tags for curriculums are daunting. How much does a good homeschool education cost at this age? Your suggestions help a lot. Also, thank you for your reminder to play.

    • Betsy on June 30, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      You can get away very inexpensively when you’re educating a 5 year old! I love Ray’s Arithmetic, and it’s free: https://raysarithmetic.wordpress.com/primary-math/ However, you could simply count beans, rocks, or toys. Sort them, add them together, take away items. As for language arts, your focus just needs to be on reading and handwriting. You can get a book like Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for $15, and a handwriting book for $3-5. So outside of what you purchase for CC, you can get away with a good homeschool education for $20! That and go to the library and read lots of books. It doesn’t take much!

  9. Maya on July 7, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Thanks for this! I’m a new homeschooling mom of twin 4 year olds. Just spent weeks reviewing curriculum to purchase in addition to classical conversations. Wish I had your list earlier, it would have saved me some stress! But, I’m thankful to see your list now to know that I’m on the right track. Thanks for your encouragement!

    • Betsy on July 7, 2016 at 10:42 am

      You’re welcome Maya! I know it can be so overwhelming to start when there are so many options! I’m excited for you. Enjoy your year with your twins!

  10. Alyse Butler on July 27, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you SO much for this!! As a mom of 3 (4, 3 and 1) starting this journey, I feel like this was written just for me! ☺️

    • Betsy on July 27, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      You’re welcome! I hope you have a great year playing with your sweet kids!

  11. Linda on May 7, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Hello. So what if I’m starting HS with a 9 amd
    A 7 year old? They’ve been in public school
    and now considering HS. Overwhelm. Hear
    that CC is awesome. Help.

    • Betsy on May 7, 2017 at 6:33 pm

      That’s a great question! The simple answer is that finding a great community and giving yourself grace the first year is a big start to finding success with homeschooling. My son went to public school until he was 9, so I know where you’re coming from! Let me think a little bit more about it. Your question sounds like it might take a whole post to answer, and I’d love to answer it! I’ll get back to you with more info 🙂

  12. AnnieLaurie Walters on September 26, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    HI! I know this is an old post but THANK YOU for writing it! Your words have helped this new homeschool momma chill out a bit (mine are 5, 4 and 3) 🙂 I am looking forward to reading more of your blog!

  13. Erina Harmening on January 9, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    Hello! I’d love to know what beautiful readers your linking too. Thanks

  14. Olivia Apodaca on January 27, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    I am in love with this post, and gives me more conformation about where I have been leaning. I have a 7 and 6 year old currently in CC, it’s my third year and I feel like I am barely getting my footing. I just have a question about what you think about curriculum past 6 years old… Do you keep it this simple til they start essentials or do you start adding spelling and grammar before then? I feel like there is a lot of pressure to be heavy in curriculum, but I have also sat and thought a lot about cutting down to memory work, reading and math til essentials. I just don’t hear or see much of that, so I am just curious… thank you so much.

    • Betsy on January 29, 2018 at 10:33 pm

      Thanks Olivia! The curriculum question is a tough one. I really think it depends on your children. If you have a kid that is a natural reader, they might be hungry for more before Essentials begins. I love IEW’s PAL curriculum. It is a great way to gently prepare for Essentials. However, if you have one that struggles with reading and/or spelling, taking it easy gives them space to build confidence in areas that they love rather than feeling like they’re always getting something wrong. Essentials provides a great grammar education in the three years. If they’ve memorized the English elements of the Foundations memory work, they’ll be set up very well for success. I think we can totally over structure the learning environment for kids. They need to play and love life. My youngest has had the least amount of structured curriculum based education, and I love watching how her beautiful mind works. I don’t think I’ve slighted her in the least by giving her plenty of time to climb trees, play the piano, and build forts. She loves learning. She’s about to start Challenge A next year, and I see her feeling ready for more structure and demands on her education. She’s ready for it! Just my experience and two cents…

      • Ashleigh McLaurin on August 21, 2018 at 5:48 pm

        Thank you for this article! We are starting CC with my 5-year-old twin boys this week. Needless to say, I’m totally scared & totally excited, and this article was very much needed. I bought the PALS Reading & Writing. After putting it all together, I’m afraid it may be too laborious for the kids. My mother-in-law bought “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” for us. Since you referred to both in your comments, do you think we could do the 100 Easy Lessons first and then move onto PALS or would that just confuse my kids or be redundant? I really appreciate your time! Thank you!!

        • Betsy on August 21, 2018 at 10:20 pm

          Absolutely! You can really never be too redundant in teaching reading!! I think the 100 Easy Lessons is a great place to start, and PALS is a great way to reinforce the basics that you learn in 100 Easy Lessons, and it’s really fun.

          • Ashleigh McLaurin on August 21, 2018 at 10:24 pm

            I am so thankful that I ran across this article 2 days before officially starting homeschooling! Thank you so much for replying so quickly & I can’t wait to follow your blog!

  15. breanna on August 16, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I am the mom who just started this and bought all the things. Now I can just chill out a little bit and enjoy the journey more! We will eventually use all the things, but I don’t have to stress about doing more than the necessities with my 5 year old for now!

    • Betsy on August 16, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Absolutely! We bought encyclopedias when my son wasn’t even one year old! It took him about 15 years to fully appreciate them, but now we use them all the time! Enjoy that five year old! Time flies 🙂

  16. Tanya on August 31, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    I don’t know if you still are homeschooling with CC, but I’m sitting in my church right now first week of CC overwhelmed. What you you buy for your 10 year old 4th grader ?

    • Betsy on September 1, 2018 at 12:36 pm

      We are still with CC and in our 9th year. If this is your first year, I would keep the same advice: keep it simple. Buy the audio CD (or download the songs from iTunes) and listen to the memory work whenever you’re in the car. I also loved the geography trivium table for practicing with the map. Spend 30-45 minutes a day on Essentials – here’s my advice for Essentials students. Then just keep the rest of your day simple with math (I love CTCMath), and reading. We did a lot of reading aloud together. Then just breathe and understand that the first year of anything takes time to adjust to. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come when you’ve just been faithful in the little things along the way. There is a lot of time between now and when they graduate! I’m always amazed each year at how far we’ve come in our imperfect studies!

  17. Antoinette on April 27, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    Hi, love this article! Just what I needed to hear as I wasn’t sure what all I really needed to buy. I will be starting CC with my five year old this fall for the first time. We are currently starting CC to use for the social aspect and community aspect so my daughter can be around others one day a week. We will also be doing another homeschool program one day a week for more social aspect. So my question is, I was wondering if now that the new 5th edition CC guide came out, can I still use the 4th edition guide? I know someone that will give me their 4th edition guide but not sure if I can use it. Would it have the same basic memory work? I don’t expect much from my daughter this year being 5 and want her to build friendships, learn the songs if she wants and do as much of the work as she is willing and able. We will also have other curriculum choices that I bought used to see what fits for her best through this coming year to find our “fit” for homeschooling. I also wouldn’t want to invest so much money in a guide before knowing if CC will even be the right fit for us.

    • Betsy on April 27, 2019 at 3:51 pm

      The 5th edition guide is different enough that you would really have a hard time following along without it. Because it is so new, you wouldn’t have any problem reselling it at the end of the year if you decided not to continue. I hope you enjoy!!

  18. Danielle on January 30, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    Hello, new here to homeschooling and I just moved from a country where homeschooling was not yet officially recognized yet had some established CC Communities to a country where homeschooling is legal but there are know known CC communities.
    Is there anyway someone can help me, please?

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